News of Otsego County

Andrew Stammel

STAMMEL: Conspiracy Fantasies Must Come To An End

Conspiracy Fantasies

Must Come To An End

To the Editor:

Millions of Americans watched in horror as partisan domestic terrorists stormed the U.S. Capitol last week to prevent the lawful election of Joe Biden. I join in the anger and disgust at the destruction of public property and the desecration of the hallowed citadel of democracy. I despair at the unnecessary loss of life, including brave Capitol police officers.

But I also angrily denounce the ongoing incitement by the President and allies in the Republican Party as well as their tepid or non-existent denunciations of the appalling insurrection.

STAMMEL: After Vacancy Rift, Bi-Partisan Trust Needs Rebuilding

After Vacancy Rift,

Bi-Partisan Trust Needs Rebuilding

To the Editor:

The run of bi-partisanship on the county Board of Representatives has been interrupted by the Republican caucus’ recent efforts to steamroll through a replacement for Representative Oberacker.

During my two and a half terms on the county board, cooperation between parties has ebbed and flowed. Since the 2017 election it has been split 7-7 between Democrats and Republican-affiliated members.

Thankfully, a bi-partisan governing coalition and leadership team was ascendant and the board increased its productivity and collegiality. There was an understanding that it was in the county’s interest for the party caucuses to work with each other. Representative Bliss has been selected as chair three years running, in votes that relied on support from both parties.

Some cracks began to show in January 2020 as the leadership team became fully Republican after two years of shared leadership with a chair and vice chair from different parties. But cooperation mostly continued until this month.

With Representative Oberacker’s recent election to state Senate, he is set to take office in January 2021. This will create a vacancy in his county district because his board term runs through December 2021.

The board’s Rules of Order and local law clearly outline how to fill vacancy, within 30 days and with nominees submitted by both major parties, to be voted on by the Administration Committee and then the full board.

Unfortunately the Republican caucus apparently coordinated to prevent Democratic input into this process, rejecting bi-partisanship.

Representative Oberacker inexplicably submitted his resignation letter a month and a half prior to commencing his new position, unexpectedly vacating the board prior to important votes on the annual budget and other matters.

His resignation letter was dated Nov. 13 to take effect the 16th; but it was not received by the board clerk until Nov. 17 (according to the date stamp). The clerk did not share the resignation with the Board members until the 18th, a day after the local Republican Committee met to nominate a replacement.

Upon receipt of the resignation letter, the Democratic board members inquired with board leadership about the process for moving forward and how the Democratic Committee could submit a name (the committee had a regular meeting scheduled for the 19th).

These inquiries were ignored by leadership, and the Administration Committee voted on the morning of the 19th, along party lines, to approve the Republican nominee.

Does this sound like collegial bi-partisanship? It sounds like a fishy partisan power move to me, contrary to the letter and spirit of county law.

The county board now has seven Democratic members, six Republican-affiliated members, and one vacancy. Democrats have a plurality in weighted voting on the board but neither party has a majority. Bi-partisan cooperation will be required to move forward on any items, including the filling of this vacancy.

It had been my expectation that the board would fill the vacancy as I believed that to be in the county’s best interest. I also expected that the board would choose a Republican, as this is historically a conservative district.

But now I ask myself what the Republican plurality would do if the shoe were on the other foot. Would they keep open a vacancy in a traditionally Democratic district and press their advantage to maintain their plurality and greater control over the Board?

If you had asked me a year ago, I would opine that the Republicans would probably do the right thing and fill the vacancy. Today, after their latest maneuvers, I’m not sure.

The success of our county and board depends on restoring bi-partisan respect. With the county still fighting a pandemic and dealing with a likely double-dip recession, we need a high-functioning and fully staffed board.

Although the timing of the filling of this vacancy is unknown, I do not plan to keep the position vacant for over a year and I expect some of my Democratic colleagues feel similarly. But we also need the GOP caucus to work to rebuild bridges and trust.

Like any relationship, this one requires work and good faith on both sides. I hope the holidays and New Year allow my Republican colleagues to reflect on their recent actions and consider how they can contribute to restoring trust and collegiality.

County Representative
District 4, Town of Oneonta

STAMMEL: Don’t Walk Away From Education


We Shouldn’t Walk Away

From Educational System

To the Editor:

The prosperity of Oneonta is inextricably intertwined with the success of its colleges. The fact that SUNY Oneonta’s reopening did not succeed as planned and hoped is a tragedy for our community in a year that challenges us all.

The shutdown is devas-tating for our students who have looked forward to their college experience; heartbreaking for the 1,000 SUNY employees who have worked since March to keep our students safe and provide a semblance of a college experience; frightening for our local business-owners; disappointing for residents who appreciate the vitality students bring; and challenging to taxpayers whose governments have just lost a large source of non-local revenue.

Some anxious residents have opined that with the sacrifices we have all made this year to keep the virus at bay, any increase in population density was unacceptable, be it from tourists, weekenders, or students.

I have elderly and vulnerable friends and family locally and can understand and empathize with this perspective.

The good news is that at this early stage, the outbreak appears to have been contained to students, due to the quick and decisive actions of SUNY, the rapid deployment of state resources, cooperation of community members, and ongoing heroics of our underfunded County Department of Health. Out of hundreds tested, no employees have tested positive and there’s no evidence of community spread yet.

While SUNY Oneonta began the school year with 97 percent of classes online, it joined the majority of colleges across the country in developing a hybrid plan that would allow for some level of in-person experience. This reflects a very American “can-do” attitude that with science and problem-solving, we can engineer our way around unprecedented challenges.

“Monday morning quarterbacking” is also an American pastime and the failure of the reopening has led to a misguided and gratuitous blame game by some local politicians and media (not this paper, to my knowledge). Kudos to those elected officials, administrators, and others who have maintained a positive forward-looking attitude, looking for collaborative solutions to protect folks and rebuild trust and relationships between the college and community.

In my conversations with contacts at several colleges, it’s clear to me that SUNY’s planning began earlier and was at least as collaborative, thorough and transparent as other institutions. From March – July, planning efforts invited input from all members of the college community and resulted in hundreds of pages of draft and final planning documents.

A proposed plan was submitted to and approved by the state and has been posted on the college web page for about two months. If your elected official is now one of the furious finger-pointers, ask them how they proactively contributed to crafting a safe reopening plan over the past six months or if they waited to retroactively criticize.

Any successful reopening will rely on three elements. Yes, a good plan must proactively be crafted (and no plan is perfect). Second, there needs to be widespread compliance with the plan and adherence to social distancing by students and employees. Finally, there is an element of luck or God’s will, whichever your persuasion.

Was an infected person a biological “super-spreader”? Did the wind or humidity contribute to spread on a given day? Did a bystander witness a party and report it to authorities in time? While humans like to believe our plans dictate results, much will be out of our control.

Every local college has had some level of outbreak already. This year may prove that for demographic and situational reasons, a residential college experience during a pandemic is unlikely to succeed.

Experience has shown the largest outbreaks are occurring in residential settings (nursing homes, jails, military, summer camps, sports teams, and colleges). Additionally, young people across the country have proved to be the least like to adhere to social distancing.

Despite the risks, does it mean we should not at least try to reopen our educational system? That is a question for every school and community. As K-12 schools across our area consider various reopening scenarios, I urge them to learn from our lessons. Be clear-eyed and accept that we are in a global pandemic and the virus is seeded throughout our area and outbreaks will occur as social distancing is lessened. Craft your outbreak prevention and response plans with care and humility. And finally, have the wisdom and strength to acknowledge when a situation has escalated beyond your control and shut it down, accordingly.

We all mourn the loss of normalcy this year and hope for a swift return to our old lives. Until that time, the best way to protect your loved ones and community is to wear masks, social distance, and practice good hygiene.

Town of Oneonta
County Representative: District 4
Town of Oneonta
Stammel, SUNY Oneonta
Title IX coordinator, said he submitted this letter from the perspective of
an elected official and private citizen,
not as a SUNY spokesman.

STAMMEL: Cut Tourism Funding To Prevent Layoffs

Cut Tourism Funding

To Prevent Layoffs

To the Editor:

Last week, the Otsego County Board of Represent-atives made the tragic decision to terminate 59 employees, amounting to hundreds of years of institutional knowledge and public service.

While the euphemism “layoff” continues to be used, it doesn’t accurately reflect what occurred. These jobs have been eliminated. To return, multiple committees and the full board would need to re-create, fund and then fill these jobs; an unlikely prospect for the foreseeable future.

It is unfortunate that this newspaper cavalierly glossed over these individuals, some with decades of service, and instead cynically focused on the perceived gain or loss of “clout” by politicians who voted for it.

This was by far the most difficult vote any representative has taken and each tried to do what our conscience and judgment told us was right. I don’t believe politics or clout factored into this decision for my colleagues – I know it didn’t for me. While we can disagree on the merits of this vote, we all acknowledge the devastation of overturning the lives of 59 families in our community.

Budget decisions the county board makes in any given year reflect our values and priorities and also have lasting impacts on future budget years. In December 2018, this paper printed a letter of mine in which I expressed concern that the county board was voting to approve a half-million dollar raise for management, including a raise for themselves of nearly 30 percent. These votes took place just weeks after the board endorsed the county treasurer’s plan to accelerate the tax foreclosure process on local struggling homeowners.

In addition to my concern that these actions reflected a tendency of the board to prop up those with power while making it harder for those struggling, the letter also warned about timing.

I wrote, “Economic storm clouds may be gathering. The county is disproportionately reliant on bed and sales taxes, which track volatile consumer spending. It appears the stock market is set for its worst year since 2008 and economists predict a recession within two years. These raises are essentially locked into future budgets. When the economy falters, the board will need to raise taxes or cut services.”

While no one expected the suddenness or magnitude of the current recession, clairvoyance is not required to predict a recession. All economic expansions eventually come to an end
at some point. The choices we make in the good times will reverberate when hard times come.

Last week I stated that while job cuts may become necessary, I could only vote for them if they were strategic and a last resort. Neither factor was present at the time of the vote. Looking only at the departments reporting to my committee, it is counterproductive to cut a significant proportion of employees working on issues of public health and mental health/addiction during a time of pandemic and rising community trauma. Some of these employees even generate revenue for the budget, more than paying for the expense of their position.

As evidence that the job cuts were not a last resort, we pointed to the over $1.1 million being funneled to external agencies and semi-private entities. While the Administration Committee voted to cut 59 jobs, amounting to 25 percent of some departments, it only voted to cut by 15 percent payments to agencies doing work outside the county’s core mission. Included in this was over $600,000 to a private tourism agency advertising for a largely non-existent tourism season. This agency is supposedly supported through the County’s bed tax. With a loss of 70 percent of bed tax, how can we only cut our payment by 15 percent? These concerns and others were brought up repeatedly throughout the decision-making process and should have been resolved adequately prior to terminating employees.

It is on all Otsego County residents, both elected officials and voters, to think about what kind of government we want. In recent decades, we’ve greatly reduced the number of our neighbors working locally in public service, while at the same time transferring millions of taxpayer monies to out of town consultants and private corporations and agencies. COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend.

Do we continue further down this road? It may result in not just job losses for our neighbors but also valuable losses in services, as has been evidenced by the County Clerk’s recent closure of the Oneonta DMV. Through your voice and your vote, let your county know what kind of government you want to see. In the meantime, let’s all support our loved ones and community during this difficult time.

County Representative

County Board Retreats From Threatened Cuts To Promotion Agency


County Board Retreats

From Threatened Cuts

To Promotion Agency

County Board Vice Chairman Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, argues for protecting the “three pillars” of the county’s economy to the degree it can be.  At left is Board Chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield.  (From today’s Zoom meeting.)

By JIM KEVLIN ׇ• Special to

Andrew Stammel proposed the resolution to make larger cuts to Destination Marketing of Otsego County. 

COOPERSTOWN – After tabling the measure two weeks ago, the county Board of Representatives today rallied behind Destination Marketing of Otsego County, with nine reps rejecting a resolution to reduce funding for its promotional arm from 15 percent to 24 percent.

Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta, proposed the larger cut for DMCOC, saying, “With the present state of the industry” – tourism – “we’re not going to be doing as much in this atmosphere.”  Michele Farwell, D-Morris, second the motion.

STAMMEL: Let’s Revisit One Oneonta


Let’s Revisit One Oneonta

To the Editor:

As we enter Phase One of the easing of COVID-related public health restrictions, it is important to reflect on where we are, but also where we came from and where we are going. We are poised to surpass the sobering milestone of 100,000 dead Americans this Memorial Weekend, after just two short months of viral spread.

NY’s “PAUSE” went into effect as the rate of infection and death was escalating in our state and county. At this point, Otsego County has suffered a lower rate of infection and serious illness. But the deaths of four of our neighbors is significant and their families should remain in our thoughts and prayers.
The lack of large-scale local viral spread is partly the result of luck and our rural geography, but mostly the product of concerted efforts. The early pro-active moves of our Department of Health, hospitals, and schools have had a positive impact.

Finally, the prudent decisions and sacrifices made by every county resident have helped to protect our vulnerable neighbors. We will never know how many lives were saved by these actions but social distancing, improved hygiene, and wearing masks have certainly flattened the curve.

These sacrifices have come with a cost. Grandparents miss their grandchildren; young people are missing classmates, graduations and other milestones; and our local businesses have been battered by the social and economic lockdown.

This paper’s suggestion that the governor is now arbitrarily “setting us free” is unhelpful. The economic pause was always intended to be short-term, allowing us to weather the first wave of virus and to build up our public health resources.

Weeks ago, state health experts outlined the health metrics and infrastructure that had to be present to begin reopening. Our county board endorsed the regional phased and science-based state plan in a tri-partisan nearly unanimous vote.

Because of the sacrifices residents and the work of local government, we have now met the criteria. It won’t be like flipping a light switch back to “normal.” We are instead dialing down health restrictions and transitioning to something new.

As the weather warms and summer holidays approach, many are tempted to throw caution to the wind. We must instead continue to show personal responsibility and exercise good hygiene and social distancing. After all, most of us engaged in this behavior not because the government directed us to, but because we knew protecting our vulnerable family and neighbors is the right thing to do. Let’s not backtrack.

We cannot predict when the health threat will finally end. Many experts expect the virus to follow the pattern of other respiratory illness and spike this fall and winter.

In the absence of strong and clear leadership at the national level, we’ve seen some governors fail to enact any precautions or others who have reopened their economy while their infections continue to accelerate. This may lead to hotspots that eventually find their way here.

We should continue to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Whenever this viral threat ends, I trust that Otsego County will emerge a stronger and more compassionate community. You’ve all done so much to look out for each other already. Let’s keep up the good work!

Town of Oneonta
County representative, District 4
Chair, Health & Education Committee

STAMMEL: ‘Sanctuary’ May Kill Golden Goose

‘Sanctuary’ May Kill Golden Goose


To the Editor:

Elected officials should make efforts to understand and represent, within the confines of the law, our constituents’ varying perspectives. Thus, Representative Brockway’s “Second Amendment sanctuary” letter in last week’s edition was concerning both in its substance and tone.

His letter rebutted a column a week before submitted by an active local resident. Brockway dismissively wrote that the author “is not native to the area and does not understand the people of rural, Upstate New York.”

Politicians may disagree with a community member’s position on an issue; but negating the personal value of those opinions based on assumptions about where someone was born is inappropriate.

We have a duty to work respectfully for all constituents, whether they’ve lived here for 80 years or eight months.

The opinions of “native” rural Upstaters about the difficult issue of gun safety are not uniformly absolutist.

Upwards of 90 percent of Americans believe some level of gun safety regulation is appropriate. This includes large proportions of people, like myself, who have lived in rural Upstate our whole lives or who have a familiarity with guns.

Among wealthy nations, ours is a significant outlier in the high level of deadly gun violence. Anyone who objectively looks at this fact will realize it is a problem in need of solutions. In government, we don’t solve the tough problems by retreating to rigid ideological corners. Instead we need to bring the best minds together from different perspectives and work collaboratively and creatively to create a better future for the next generations.

Sanctuary movements urge a radical and dangerous drift away from the rule of law. Many of us object to specifics in the SAFE Act or the process by which it was adopted. But like it or not, it is the current law.

Under our system, the way to change the law is to urge our lawmakers to repeal or amend it or to vote in new representatives who will do so. If a law is claimed to be unconstitutional, it may be challenged in the courts, which are tasked with interpreting the meaning of the state and federal Constitutions. Pro-gun special interest groups are generously funded and assist citizens in these lawful efforts at campaigning, lobbying, and litigation.

In Otsego County government, we frequently complain about unfunded or ill-fitting state mandates and often urge the state to improve them. In fact, the county board has been on the record for years with
its concerns about the SAFE Act.

Despite objections, our county and local governments are still obligated to follow our laws. The suggestion by politicians or by the county board as a body that our government not enforce the law is deeply irresponsible and de-stabilizing.

It puts at risk two of the primary pillars of our local economy – higher education and tourism. Our economic vitality depends on the revenue from those “outsiders” and newcomers about whom Representative Brockway speaks so dismissively.

How many fewer families will visit or send their children to our area if they believe they’re venturing into the Wild West where public safety laws will be applied arbitrarily or not at all? This divisive and misguided effort would not lead to a brighter future for the county we love and should be rejected by the county board.

County Representative
Town of Oneonta

STAMMEL: 7-7 Split Calls For Power-Sharing, Cooperation


7-7 Split Calls For

Power-Sharing, Cooperation

To the Editor:

Every New Year brings change to the Otsego County Board. It has been interesting reading different opinions about our recent changes. To me, the selection of a chair and new vice chair from the same party caucus does not indicate a move away from the welcome bi-partisan collegiality of the last term.

Both leaders won the bi-partisan support of their peers because they have shown themselves to be thoughtful and hardworking Reps who get along well with their colleagues.

After his re-appointment, Chairman Bliss showed through his committee assignments that he understands that a 7-7 partisan split calls for power-sharing and cooperation between the parties.

Democrats are well represented in the new assignments, chairing two of the standing committees and one of the special committees. Democrats also hold a numeric majority on three standing committees and one special committee. I expect the bi-partisan cooperation will continue, as it should.

It’s important for me to express my thanks and appreciation to Chairman Bliss, who has entrusted me with the chairmanship of the Health & Education Committee for the third consecutive year.

The importance of this standing committee is sometimes overlooked, perhaps because the folks it represents often don’t have the loudest voices: our senior citizens; children and adults with special needs; people dealing with physical and mental health issues or addiction; struggling farmers; and yes, even our deceased neighbors.

The committee oversees a budget of over $15 million and supervises about 80 employees; the work touches all residents of our county.  At times, the public may only be aware of these departments when a crisis arises. Instead, we should all consistently tout the good work that our department heads and their staff are doing to keep our county safe, healthy, and thriving.

One example of this good news is the approximately 90 percent reduction in drug overdose deaths over the past couple years. This turnaround has come about in part because of the coordinated and strategic efforts of these folks to provide prevention, treatment, and recovery.

If you see any of the hard-working people contributing to the health and wellbeing of our county, please offer them a word of thanks. Most of these quiet heroes do not seek the spotlight but instead stay focused on their service to our community. While the work isn’t glamorous, it is important and improves all of our lives.

It is my hope in the New Year that the county board follows the examples of these employees and continues to eschew political grandstanding or divisive partisan issues. There is important work to do and I expect we will work together collaboratively to deliver common sense results for our deserving constituents.


County Representative

Town of Oneonta

Past And Present Collide In Debate On Administrator


Past And Present

Collide In Debate

On Administrator

Planning v. ‘Dealing With It’

Explored; Also, Redistricting

County Rep. Keith McCarty, front left, chides board Chairman David Bliss for questioning past boards’ decisions on MOSA.  “I’m not blaming them,” replied Bliss.  “They did the best thing they could at the time.  And that’s what we’re doing today:  acting on the best knowledge we have now.” (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

COOPERSTOWN – Three decades of striving ended today as the Otsego County Board of Representatives, 11-2-1, created the position of county executive.

In a half-hour of give and take, it was clear that, despite and lopsided vote, starkly contrasting outlooks remain.

“You talk about planning,” said county Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield, and longest-serving board member.  “You can’t plan when you’re going to get a flood.  You can’t plan when a bridge is going to go out.  You can’t plan when a road washes out – we’ve had two of them on the east side of Otsego Lake. You deal with it.”

Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, who is finishing his first term, took on the rebuttal: “Our talents are hamstrung by a lack of coordination, a lack of planning, a lack of overall coordination.

Letters What About Health, Retirement Benefits

What About Health, Retirement Benefits?

To the Editor:

Have you ever decided your own salary for the coming year? If so, did you opt to use another person’s money to give yourself a nearly 30-percent raise? Unlikely. Many of us would consider that unethical and shocking.

The Otsego County Board of Representatives recently did just that, including their own generous raise in a half-million-dollar management salary reset. Some downplay the financial impact, but the county board raise alone will cost taxpayers about $84,000 per two-year term.

Some representatives expressed reservations but, in the end, it was nearly unanimous. The salary package originated in the Administration Committee where the legislator raises were initially included with those of the department heads. After lengthy discussion, we decoupled them, creating two separate resolutions. The department head raises were voted out of committee unanimously, but the county board raises were approved along party lines, with Republicans voting for their own raises and Democrats dissenting.

For unknown reasons, these were repackaged into one resolution for the county board meeting where I moved to amend the resolution to remove the raises for representatives and the chair. While my motion was seconded for discussion, no one joined me in voting to remove or reject the legislator raises.

The timing is especially concerning. Instead of approving a raise for an incoming class of new representatives, we are mid-term and approving raises for ourselves. It’s also done at a time when the IGA committee is looking at new county management plans, which may reduce the role of county representatives.

Finally, economic storm clouds may be gathering. The county is disproportionately reliant on bed and sales taxes, which track volatile consumer spending. It appears the stock market is set for its worst year since 2008 and economists predict a recession within two years. These raises are essentially locked into future budgets. When the economy falters, the board will need to raise taxes or cut services.

During the holiday season when we should consider less fortunate neighbors, there is a distinct “Let them eat cake” vibe coming from the county board. Another representative claimed that because the raise was already included in the budget, no further debate was necessary. This belies the fact that items may be budgeted and then not spent, returning monies to the fund balance or transferring to any number of other line items.

How politicians choose to spend your money reflects values decisions. Every dollar a legislator spends on him or herself is a dollar that won’t fill the pothole outside your house, or enhance school security, or support the animal shelter, or fight the opiate crisis, or encourage economic development, or just provide tax relief. The salaries are just the tip of the iceberg attached to absurd and often hidden perks.

County representatives are part-time and short-term elected officials but are entitled to Employee Benefits like health insurance for themselves and family, even into retirement. My understanding is a politician can win election three times and then be voted out of office after six years of service and suddenly be considered “retired,” with all the benefits that go along with that. The representatives recently made a show of doubling the amount they contribute to their own health insurance. This means taxpayers are now responsible for 90 percent of the cost as opposed to the former 95 percent. Our full-time rank and file union employees pay significantly more for insurance and had to fight for 2 percent salary raises.

County officials should not follow the lead of politicians in Washington and Albany, who have lost the trust of the people. At the local level, we need citizen legislators who bring diverse perspectives, work together for a few years, then pass the baton to the next civic-minded person.

During my time with the County I have pledged not to accept any of the health insurance, retirement benefits, or travel reimbursement, as I believe these are incompatible with part-time public service. Retirement can be quite costly as you have to plan your life after work, which includes the destination you want to retire in, food, drink, bills, and even devices you may have not used before can help best mobility scooters. You will want to purchase the best scooters to support you and your needs whilst you are growing into the wise person you are. Benefits can help though with these costs which doesn’t make it so bad.

Until these benefits are reformed, a representative may accept them and each of us makes our own decision on what’s right for us.

If we believe the benefits are ethical, transparency should not be a problem. It is my hope that county representatives will reflect over the holiday about who we are elected to serve and that we will return in January with the spirit of real reform.


County Representative

Town of Oneonta

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

Editorial for November 30, 2018.

Ruffles Takes First Step Against Whack-A-Mole

Maria Ajello makes her monthly plea: Give me my house back.

For years now, Otsego County’s annual auction of foreclosed-on tax-delinquent properties has eaten up a lot of oxygen at the county Board of Representatives’ monthly meetings.
It’s the Whack-A-Mole of county government, which suggests: There are unresolved issues.
So a take-charge presentation by the new county treasurer, Allen Ruffles, at the November meeting was welcome, if partial.
First, he declared, having studied the issue, giving delinquent taxpayers four years to pay back bills is counterproductive. In the fourth year, the fees and interest that accrue just make it all that more likely property owners won’t be able to catch up.
Three years is the standard among New York State counties, and Ruffles – as he can within his treasurer’s duties – has implemented it, effective 2022.
Second, he encouraged the county board, as a companion measure, to pass a law enabling property owners to “buy back” their own homes.
Himself a former banker, Ruffles said most delinquent properties aren’t mortgaged and contain more-than-sufficient equity to qualify for bank loans to cover what’s owed.
The county board should promptly pass the enabling legislation.
While Ruffles didn’t need the county reps’ blessing, Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, made a motion of support and it was approved, although three county reps – Kathy Clark, Michele Farwell and Andrew Stammel – abstained, uncertain about some of the particulars.

Ruffles’ presentation spurred a debate – of course, the Whack-A-Mole – on a related issue: Should county employees be allowed to bid at the annual delinquent-property auction.
There was general agreement that employees in the Treasurer’s and the County Attorney’s offices, who are elbows deep in preparing the annual tax sale, should be prohibited from bidding – elected officials, too – but beyond that there were divergences.

The Freeman’s Journal – At this month’s county board meeting, Allen Ruffles, the freshman county treasurer, announces steps he’s taking to streamline foreclosures and tax sales. At right is chairman David Bliss.

County Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, objected to any restrictions, even on himself and the other reps, saying anyone who thinks a property is worth more could bid against him. The board vice chair, Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, called a ban “100-percent optics.” Iffy. .
Farwell, the freshman Democrat from Morris, had a more textured view: “We’re the government, and government has lost the people’s trust. I think if you take an extra step to ensure the public’s trust in government, there’s a payoff there worth more than the opportunity for any employee in the county to bid.”
She summed up: “If you are an employee of McDonald’s, you cannot participate in those sweepstakes.”

Readers, ask yourself and fellow employees: In 10, 20 or 30 years on the job, has buying property at public auction ever come up in office conversation? Most of you would say, not at all; not once. It’s just beyond most people’s consideration.
The problem here is county employees swim in a sea where delinquent property-tax sales are dissolved oxygen. Everybody breathes that air. It’s conversation
in coffee breaks, where the treasurer’s and county attorney’s employees are sipping and sharing in the conversation.
There’s simply too much of an opportunity for inside knowledge to be acquired; for county employees, if you will, to prey on the rest of us.
Of course, it’s hard to listen to any discussion about tax sales without putting it in the context of the August 2014 auction, where Maria Ajello lost her Town of Richfield home to a neighbor who happened to be a county employee.
Another wrinkle: under a then-new policy, Ajello and a Town of Butternuts property owner, Bob Force, were denied the right to buy back their properties on the day of the sale.
They still feel that injustice, and anyone who hears Maria’s monthly plea for mercy feels it too. Injustice left alone festers, with unintended consequences: Fearful, the county board feels it must have a deputy sheriff on duty at all its monthly meetings.

To sum up, Treasurer Ruffles has taken a business-like step in shortening foreclosure from four years to three. Any business owner knows: If you let a bill go unpaid for even a year, the chances of getting paid are miniscule. But he and the county board, hand in hand, should continue to pursue not a best practice or two, but all THE best practices:
• One, pass the buy-back legislation, so captured value can be freed and people can stay in their homes.
• Two, ban every county employee from bidding on delinquent properties. Steady work, plus good health benefits and a secure retirement are recompense enough.
• Three, begin negotiations to make Maria Ajello and Bob Force whole – the properties they lost were worth many multiples of the taxes they owed.

Benton, Stammel Voted Co-Chairs of Otsego Dems

Benton, Stammel Voted

Vice Chairs of Otsego Dems

The Otsego County Democratic Committee held their elections earlier tonight at Village Hall in Cooperstown. From left, Andrew Stammel and MacGuire Benton, co-Vice Chairs, Aimee Swan, Chair, Dick Breuninger, Secretary and William Elsey, Treasurer. (Contributed by Richard Sternberg)

COOPERSTOWN – MacGuire Benton, founder of the Otsego County Young Democrats, was elected to join County Representative Andrew Stammel as co-vice chairs of the Otsego County Democratic Committee meeting during their reorganization meeting this evening at Village Hall in Cooperstown.

ON VIDEO Stammel Measure To Allow Night Meetings Is Stymied



Stammel Measure To Allow

Night Meetings Is Stymied

County Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta, passes out a resolution he proposed at today’s reorganizational meeting to allow the Otsego County Board of Representatives to more easily to schedule its monthly meetings in the evening, an idea that periodically is proposed with the idea of giving the public more access to its deliberations. At right is county Rep Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta.  After a lively debate, the measure was set aside on a procedural basis, and Stammel was asked to take the idea first through the board committee system. View the debate in the video of today’s meeting; it begins at 2 hours, 14 minutes and 20 seconds into the videotape. Click here to access. (Jim Kevlin/
questionnaire — stammel



COMMUNITY OF RESIDENCE: Life-long area resident. Born in Oneonta, grew up in Stamford. Live in the West End, Town of Oneonta


Syracuse University College of Law: JD.

Muhlenberg College: BA.

Stamford Central School: Regents Diploma


My first job was working at the Boy Scout camp in Milford. After College I volunteered in Americorps, working in the Catskills to build parks and trails, provide education, and offer disaster relief. Next, as a Child Protective Caseworker I worked to help many of our struggling neighbors  in the Delaware County DSS in Delhi. In law school,  I volunteered with Vera House in Onondaga Family Court helping victims of domestic violence secure orders of protection.

After law school, I took and passed the NYS Bar Exam and after commuting from Oneonta to a law firm in Stamford for several years, I opened my law office in the City of Oneonta in 2011. My legal work has led me to advocate for clients across New York in Town and County Courts, 3 of the 4 Appellate Divisions, and the United States District Court NDNY.  I provide affordable representation, pro bono work, and accept the assignment of many indigent local clients.

Since 2012, I have also been an administrator at SUNY Oneonta, acting to resolve conflict and be a resource to employees and students, ensuring compliance with State and Federal law.  In that role I have also engaged in institutional strategic planning and led the effort to create or update several College procedures and policies, particularly around Title IX and sexual misconduct issues. I work closely with survivors/victims of sexual assault to uphold their rights and hold perpetrators accountable.


From a young age my parents showed me the importance of community service and I have been active in various groups ever since. In Stamford I was active in school, Church, and Scouting.  In Oneonta I am a member of the Oneonta Rotary Club, and previously chaired the Youth Exchange Program. I also have served on the Board of Orpheus Theatre, the Board of Directors of the ARC Otsego and have held membership or volunteered with many other local groups including the Otschodela Council BSA, Oneonta Family YMCA, Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, the Hanford Mills Museum, and the West Kortright Center.

I’m grateful to continue community service and improvement through local government, first as an Oneonta Town Councilman and Deputy Supervisor for two years and now County Representative for Oneonta.

FAMILY: Married, no children. My extended family lives locally in Oneonta, Stamford, and Harpersfield.


In a representative democracy, an elected official’s first priority needs to be representing the interests of ALL of their constituents, regardless of party. Our government has recently been corrupted by the influence of corporate and other big money special interests who try to buy special treatment. We must not allow that to happen here. The interests of our residents must always come first.

It’s easy to be frustrated with all we see in government. But we must retain our optimism, even in this cynical age. Albany and Washington won’t change overnight but we can deliver here at home. Government can be proactive and forward looking and do big things. But that requires thoughtful representatives and citizen involvement. Let’s all work together to reform our government and deliver progress.


  1. Economic Development: Let’s create a 21st Century economy. We increased investment in roads, bridges, sewer and water and pushed for additional funding for energy infrastructure, broadband and cellular. On the Town Board we approved the first Comprehensive Plan since the 1990’s and we just approved the County’s first Strategic Prioritization Plan. These actions are setting the stage for thoughtful development moving forward. We should also repair our relationship with Otsego Now and develop intentional job training for the well-paying jobs of the future.
  2. Environment: On the Town Board, we proved our economy can grow while we also protect our environment and quality of life. We banned fracking, protected property rights and preserved clean public water. At the County we completed a large solar farm, supplying most of our government’s power and saving taxpayers.
  3. Public Safety: 85% of residents approve of our current fire protection. Commissioners and the City must negotiate civilly, agree to a reasonable contract, and support our professional firefighters. And with the Opiate crisis, the County is in a position to coordinate a comprehensive local strategy and must.
  4. Taxes: I voted against all Town property tax increases, proposing cuts and voting against some budgets. Otsego County expanded bed and sales tax from tourists, allowing us to balance the budget and stay under the tax cap. The Treasurer reports it’s the healthiest budget in a decade.
  5. Gov’t Reform: Too many politicians focus on personal gain, partisan politics and name calling. Let’s instead be ethical and cooperative. I do not accept corporate campaign money and reject all county health insurance, retirement, and travel reimbursement. On the Bi-partisan Reform Caucus we’ve pushed for an ethics board and nepotism policy. We voted to record meetings and reschedule to evenings to create transparency, accountability, and public participation. Our bi-partisan effort is now one vote short of electing new County leadership and real change.

MY QUALITIES: As a Town Councilman and County Representative I have endeavored to be transparent, ethical and accountable to the people I represent. This requires extensive and thoughtful dialogue. To encourage communication, I knock on doors, hold open houses and attend Town Board meetings. I write editorials in our papers and maintain an official Facebook page and website.

My background as an attorney provides a good knowledge of the law and policy and the ability to problem solve and zealously advocate for my clients (our residents). I try to approach every issue with an open mind and not a partisan or ideological one. Our complex issues require the thoughtful balancing of various competing interests. My experience at SUNY Oneonta has allowed me to improve my skills in navigating and resolving conflict and engaging in strategic institutional planning for the future.

Personally, I also try to be calm, civil, and thoughtful in discussions, particularly with those who disagree with me. Disagreements about policy and process are acceptable but personal attacks and name calling are not. I am not a grudge holder and am able to let go and move on from previous disagreements without holding personal animus.


Four years ago, I ran for office because our Town Board was not representing the people. We’ve seen the same problem with the County. Too many politicians have forgotten who they serve. I promise to always place our residents first and to ignore the parties, personal, and special interests. We must work together to make our government transparent, ethical, and accountable. Politicians are not a “special class” and are not above the law. Let’s see a return to public service and deliver real results for the people.

It has been a privilege and honor representing our Town and I’m asking for your support again this year because the work is not yet done. We may not be able to fix all the problems right away in Washington and Albany but we can make a real positive change locally. Progress starts here.

Candidates For Town Council Debate At Town Hall

Oneonta Town Candidates Debate 

Oneonta Town Board candidates, from left, Republican Dan Baker, Democrats Patricia Jacob and  James McCue and Republican Randy Mowers answer questions about the town-city fire contract, economic development and environment, how the town will operate under the tax cap, and what they thing about XNG trucks going through the town. The four were proceeded by, at right, county Rep.  Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta, and his Republican challenger, Breck Tarbell, right, who read position statements to a crowd at the town hall in West Oneonta. The event was hosted by the league of Women Voters. (Ian Austin/

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